Arab and Muslim Civil Rights Issues in the Chicago Metropolitan Area Post-September 11

Chapter 2

Hate Crimes

Between September 11 and September 17, 2001, there were 32 reported hate crimes perpetrated against Arabs, Muslims, and people mistaken for Arabs and Muslims in Illinois, most of these occurring in the Chicagoland area.[1] These crimes took the form of violence against individuals, schools, and mosques; verbal harassment and threats; mob incidents; and anti-Arab protests. In 2001, Illinois State Police recorded 49 hate crimes against people of Arab descent, up from nine reported in 2000.[2] Likewise, the city of Chicago reported 60 hates crimes against Arabs in 2001, up from four in 2000.[3]

However, important steps taken by police and government officials may have prevented the matter from being worse. A report issued by Human Rights Watch stated that the Arab Community Advisory Council, formed by Mayor Richard Daley, played a crucial role after September 11 in facilitating communications between the city, police, and Arab communities.[4] Furthermore, the U.S. attorney’s office, state’s attorney’s office, and the FBI all worked diligently with community leaders to prevent backlash violence against these communities. They also made it clear repeatedly that those who commit hate crimes would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Community Representatives

Elizabeth Shuman-Moore, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

I wanted to talk a little bit about the hate crime information that we have. The FBI, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the Chicago Police Department, and the Illinois State Police collect and report data on hate crimes on an annual basis.[5] The largest category consistently of victims of hate crimes is race at about half to two-thirds for any one year. Ethnic origin accounts for probably 10 percent in any one year. Those are very low numbers generally.

We don’t have the reports for the year 2001 yet, so I have to refer to 2000.[6] So, for the city of Chicago, about 41 percent of ethnic origin hate crimes were anti-Latino and, kind of interestingly, about one-third were anti-Bosnian. But that was out of a total of only 27 reported hate crimes based on ethnic origin. And the numbers for religion are similarly low, about 10 to 15 percent of total. Again, I’m talking about the city statistics. And, in 2000, 62 percent of those were anti-Jewish hate crimes, and 14 percent were anti-Islamic.

I’m giving you a kind of a baseline, and that’s all it is in order to say what the general patterns are as far as hate crime is. One thing that became quite evident, if it hadn’t been before, is that there seems to be no Arab category in the city, and I think that probably goes across all the agencies. I went back and looked at the FBI reports, and they seem to categorize anti-Arab hate crimes as “ethnic origin other.” So, that’s something I would advocate attending to, that there be an actual line item for that. They do have in the religion category Islam or anti-Islamic, but there seems to be no line for that. And, like I said, the reports have not been released yet, including the city reports. I would hope that the 2001 reports would be released soon. They generally are released at least by this time.

A little more information about hate crimes: The typical perpetrator is a young male. Again with the 2000 city hate crime report, about 75 percent of acts of bias violence were committed by those age 25 and under. And I think that may go along with what Dr. Jody was saying about the marches they were having, seems like perhaps the same demographic group was involved in those. And another dynamic is that perpetrators of hate crimes are more likely to attack in groups than in other crimes. The criminologists tell us also they’re more likely to involve strangers than other crimes, which does provide an additional challenge for law enforcement to solve those crimes. We know, and I think you’ve heard that there was, from both official and unofficial sources, a big spike in the usual level of hate crimes after September 11. I don’t think we can be relaxed about thinking that the worst is behind us because an event at any level of the world, national or local, could cause that to spike up again to cause hate crimes to increase.

I believe that other people have touched on this as well but, underreporting, I think it’s widely considered in general on hate crimes that probably most hate crimes are not reported to official authorities. So, the numbers I’ve been citing are what’s reported initially, but there’s a big problem of underreporting hate crimes. So, we can’t assume that the numbers that we’re talking about are the actual number of hate crimes that have happened. And some of the reasons for not reporting by victims include lack of knowledge, and sometimes they’re reported but not reported as hate crimes. There can be language obstacles, and then I think, most importantly to us now, a distrust and fear of both the criminal justice system and the government at large can cause people to not report hate crimes. And then there’s also concerns about law enforcement not reporting it. And they also need to be educated and sensitized to the importance of reporting it and recording it.

So, at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, we feel that hate crime and discrimination in general have been widely underreported, particularly to official agencies since September 11. So, we’ve been directing a lot of our efforts to outreach and education to Muslims, Arabs, those from the Middle East, South Asia, and immigrants. And that’s to both respond to and prevent hate crimes. I agree with other speakers, including Dr. Jody, that it’s important not just to direct our efforts at the target population, but also potential perpetrators and the larger community. It’s important to develop a diverse network against hate crime and discrimination and support of people targeted by crimes and discrimination.

William Haddad, Executive Director Arab American Bar Association

In the Chicago area, after 9/11, we saw corrections officers and friends on motorcycles take down an Arab American cab driver, beat him up saying, “This is what you get, you mass murderer.” Chicago police reported 13 hate crime arrests in the first month. They only had three the year before. One of them was a south side grocery store owned by an Arab American, and the attacker said, “I’m going to blow up the store the same way the World Trade Center was blown up.”

There’s a Catholic church on the north side that happens to be an Assyrian Catholic church, the Assyrian community in Chicago is perhaps the oldest community here. They’ve been out on the north side for many years. Their church was set on fire, arson, and it happened to be the day of the prayer vigil in New York. 

On the south side, an Arab American community center was also set on fire. A community center that not only tutors Arab Americans, but also African Americans and other people in the community. It’s gone. My secretary’s mother worked at that community center. 

Ray Hanania, Publisher Arab American View

I saw how easily people resorted to stereotyping and hatred as a means of dealing with this tragedy. In the weeks after September 11, a man who identified himself by name and said he was one of my neighbors was among hundreds of people who sent e-mails threatening my life. What does it say about a society when someone can feel comfortable in their hatred with no fear of punishment?

He was a victim really of the atmosphere of hatred that followed September 11 as much as I was. I saw how individuals felt comfortable on the streets of Bridgeview to express their anger at a mosque that is a Muslim house of worship. They waved the American flag and the confederate flag. They chanted, “Kill the Arabs.” More than a dozen Arab-owned stores nearby had their windows shattered. I met Arab Americans who were suddenly afraid to say they were Arab or Muslim. This anti-Arab bigotry is not new. We saw it prior to September 11 when a community with some 22 Christian churches refused to allow one mosque to open there.

Months ago, I parked at a shopping mall in Orland Park, and I pulled up next to a white Ford. The owner had painted phrases on the window in broad strokes of yellow paint. The large rear window had this message painted: “If you want to see Ala, A-l-a, or Jahad, J-a-h-a-d, then mess with an American.”

This person couldn’t even spell the words that he grew to hate. Why does an American paint a message like that on their car? To inform Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden that America will not stand silent in the face of terrorism? Or was it to provoke people like me, Arab Americans and Muslims who live in large numbers in Orland Park and the surrounding suburbs? I wanted to find this motorist and tell him or her that I am more of an American than they were.

Itedal Shalabi Arab American Family Services

The second night after the terrorist attacks, my children and I could not believe what we were seeing in our community. I live in Bridgeview, and you all heard some testimony about how a mob was demonstrating towards the mosque. The demonstrators were walking; they were screaming; they were yelling; they were honking. My children heard the words that they were saying. 

My children started asking, “Why do they hate us, mom? We did not have anything to do with what happened in New York City. Why are they blaming us? Are we going to have to move from this house? Are you going to keep wearing the hijab? Is our school safe? When are we going back to school? Will they throw a bomb at our school, our mosque? Don’t they know that Islam is a peaceful religion?” 

All these questions were coming at me, and I did not know how to catch them. My middle son, Suhai, looked out from the window and said, “Mom, why are there Israeli soldiers outside my window?” You see, my two oldest sons visited their grandfather in Palestine, and when their father passed away, I brought them back. They have seen Israeli soldiers come into the villages. So, the officer outside my window was dressed in full riot gear and resembled an Israeli soldier to him. We had 10 police departments send officers to protect us and keep the demonstrators in line. For almost three to four days, we had to show IDs upon entering our community to go to our homes.

Bassam Jody, President Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview

After September 11, many of our people found themselves in a position where their loyalty was being questioned. In particular, many of our sisters who wear the hijab found themselves harassed. Just to give you one example, one sister was driving her kids to school, and she stopped at the red light. A couple of guys jumped from their van, stood in front of her, and started shouting obscenities. She said that the only thing she could do was make sure the windows were closed. All she could do was cry and pray that they would move out of her way so that she could go.

Also after September 11, we had to close the schools around the mosque. There are two schools near the mosque, and we had to close both schools for a few days because of serious concern for the security and safety of the children.

I think two days after the tragic events of September 11, we started hearing rumors going around in the community that we Muslims were burning American flags in the mosque, and other acts of anti-Americanism. And that night, I was in the mosque at about 9 p.m. All of a sudden, a couple of police officers came knocking on the door and asked us to please leave. They said, “We have to escort you out because there is a march on the mosque, several hundred people are marching on the mosque.” I looked at one of the police officers and said, “Why?” 

He said, “Look, I don’t know. Looks like there are hundreds of young men out there, and I think you should leave.” Well, I told the other brothers there that yes, we should leave. The police escorted us out.

As I said, the police officers escorted us out before they reached us, so I saw the mob mostly on the TV, the majority of whom were probably in the 25 and under category. They were mostly carrying signs saying, “God Bless America.” Some of them were kind of hostile. One of them even had a sign on his truck that said, “Kill All the Arabs.”

The majority of them were just young people. That is why I say it is not a matter of just hate, but probably lack of understanding that we are their neighbors and that we are Americans like them. We believe in America and we want to work with them because it is our country. In our community on the southwest side, probably 75 percent of us were born and raised in the Chicago area, probably have never been outside the Chicago area except maybe for a vacation. So, it is mostly the young people who get moved by what they hear on the news and start profiling a whole community.

The marches continued, I think, for three nights. It made us feel sort of insecure. It made me feel bad because I strongly believe that our people, who are fifth, fourth, third, second, and first generation Americans and some immigrants, are good citizens. We believe in the values of the country. We respect the laws, and we feel hurt again that we are being harassed and attacked by our fellow citizens.

However, I think that part of the problem is not really that it was just their hatred for us. I think probably the main reason was that those young men and women, especially the young ones who do not really know who we are, are not educated. Therefore, I think there’s a need for an educational program. They need to learn that our young men and women serve in just about every job we can think of from medical doctors to bus drivers, to scientists, engineers, and soldiers in the Army. Therefore, I really think there’s a need for educating the community at large that we are one nation under God and that we do really stand for liberty and justice for all.

Rouhy Shalabi, President Arab American Bar Association

Wherein a month after the incident took place, I was right here on Jackson near the Immigration Building in my car, ready to turn right onto Wabash when a squad car, a marked car, pulled next to me. Two police officers in it, and one of them said to me, “Where is your seat belt?” I did not have it on. I snapped it on, and turned to thank him. And he said to me jokingly, or sarcastically, “In my country, we follow the law,” and they speed off. I didn’t say anything, but it cut me very bad. I, as an American-born Muslim, and I was dressed like this, I’m an attorney. I wasn’t in a taxicab, I wasn’t wearing anything on my head, I have no beard, yet they did it to me. So, imagine what they would do to a taxi driver or to a woman who is dressed, or to a Muslim. That was troubling.

I did mention it to the police, and I’m sure they’ve done their investigations and indicated that sensitivity training would be included, and everything that takes place. But it’s a learning process. Mindful of the fact that our country was attacked horribly, and innocent people died for no apparent reason, we understand that, and that’s the trouble we have. We sympathize with that, we’re troubled by it, we hate it, we want the people captured and punished. Yet, at the same time, we’re feeling the fallout of that.

David Barkey, Midwest Civil Rights Counsel Anti-Defamation League

Based on our experience in the field of hate crimes, we know that language plays an integral part in encouraging people to commit crimes of hate. Hate is a continuum of indoctrination of beliefs, verbal expression, and also most persons who commit hate crimes have a history of engaging in lesser acts of hate. This continuum is important because it means we can intervene and that actions can be taken which prevent persons from acting on their hate.

One of the most important things we can do is speak out like we are doing today whenever we hear expressions of hatred. Speaking out prevents hatred from setting the agenda in our society; that tells us that hatred and bigotry are unacceptable.

Government and Local Officials

Richard Devine Illinois State’s Attorney for Cook County

The current hate crime law in Illinois evolved from an earlier ethnic intimidation statute, which passed in 1983.[7] Laws on hate crimes spread quickly after that. By 1998, 48 states had passed some sort of hate crime legislation. A hate crime is now a Class 4 felony in Illinois, punishable by up to three years in prison. Probation may be given in a first offense. After that, prison time is mandatory. 

We have found that hate crimes follow certain patterns. The majority of offenders are male, age 24 or younger, and are often unemployed. Hate crimes seem to increase with world conflict, as we saw last September. In the 1980s, violence against Asian Americans rose when U.S. automobile workers lost jobs to Asian workers overseas. Some of that same violence hit Hispanics when businesses moved south of the border. We also have noted a copycat phenomenon with regard to hate crimes. One hate crime can lead to a series of similar attacks on the same target group, and that makes it even more critical and crucial that we move immediately when hate crimes occur.

In Illinois, a hate crime can be charged if the victim is targeted because of race, color, religion, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin.[8] It may also be used if someone is singled out because of mental or physical disability. In the weeks following the terrorist attacks, we at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office filed charges in about a dozen hate crime cases. In those cases, Americans lashed out in anger and chose unfair targets, just as the terrorists had. They chose innocent members of the Arab immigrant community, the Arab American community, or people who simply appeared to be Arab. 

Even before September 11, we had made the prosecution of hate crimes a priority in our office. That’s because we know that each hate crime has more than one victim. It not only impacts the individual involved in the particular incident, but it also affects the individual’s entire community. Hate crimes strike fear into whole populations and keep people from enjoying the freedom this country promises to all. It was ironic and sad that law-abiding Americans were terrorized after September 11 simply because of their heritage. That, of course, could not be tolerated. Two days after the terrorist attacks, we in the state’s attorney’s office announced that we were committed to enforcing the hate crime laws.

There was a rally in the southwestern suburbs that was initially a very positive, “Let’s support our country” type of thing. It started to get a bit out of hand. And there were a portion of the people that began to march on a mosque in Bridgeview. Fortunately, the police were very much on the alert, and nothing serious happened. 

The morning after that, we in the state’s attorney’s office had a meeting, and we were talking about the situation. I thought it was important that we do something public. There was a concern on the part of some people in the office that if we spoke out too loudly, there might be a reaction against us. But most of us concluded that our job is to stand for something. So, we did hold a press conference to announce charges in the Palos Heights case and to assure the Arab and Muslim community in Cook County that we would hold offenders responsible for any crimes that were committed. 

The case we talked about that day involved a 39-year-old suburban man. He had approached another young man who was working at a Palos Heights gas station. He asked the man what he was. The man said that he was an American, but the offender wasn’t satisfied. He said, “No, where are you from?” When the young worker said he was of Moroccan descent, the offender attacked him using a two-foot machete. The defendant later said he had been listening to the radio as he drove to the gas station. The news about the terrorist attack, he said, had upset him, and he lashed out at the first Arab-looking young man that he saw. That case has since progressed through the courts, and the defendant has agreed to plead guilty to aggravated battery, unlawful use of a weapon, and a hate crime. He is scheduled to enter this plea on Thursday, June 20.

In another case, a man walked into a south side Chicago store with a bag. He confronted the clerk and said, “I got a bomb in this bag, and I’m going to blow up this store like you Arabs blew up the World Trade Center.” The individual pleaded guilty to a hate crime and to disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to 24 months’ probation and ordered to undergo mental health counseling. He must also complete 200 hours of community service at an organization that serves Arab immigrants. That requirement, I think, is fitting.

Meanwhile, our office is prosecuting another case in the Skokie courthouse. This one involves two Cook County deputy sheriffs. The case began when a cab driver of Moroccan descent was heading north driving a student passenger from Chicago to Northwestern University in Evanston. On the way, several men on motorcycles began following the taxi. Finally, one of them, who was a Cook County correctional officer, flashed a badge and told the driver to pull over. When the cab stopped on an Evanston street, one offender got off his motorcycle and punched the cab’s window. It didn’t break. Then he hit the window with a beer bottle, breaking it. Inside the cab, as you can imagine, the driver and the student were terrified. “This is what you get, you mass murderer,” one of the attackers said. Then they drove away. Two men were charged with aggravated battery, hate crimes, vehicular invasion, and unlawful use of a weapon. The case is pending now in a Skokie courthouse.

In the last case I’ll outline today, a Vernon Hills man went to Chicago’s north side, confronted two Pakistani immigrants, a man and a woman who were waiting for a bus. The offenders cursed them and told them to go back where they came from. The incident could have been worse, perhaps a lot worse. I’m pleased to report that other Americans came to the aid of the man and woman at the bus stop. Ironically, the first man who stepped forward to help was Jewish. The Jewish man defended the rights of a Muslim. “We’re all Americans,” the man said, “can’t we get through this thing together?” 

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the offender. This individual turned and assaulted the Jewish man, punching him in the head and body. But it didn’t last long. Other passersby ran up to help, stopping the attack. An off-duty police officer, who was nearby, stepped in and made the arrest. In that case, the defendant pleaded guilty to a hate crime and aggravated battery. He received 30 months’ probation, and was ordered to undergo in-patient alcohol treatment and anger management classes. He must also complete 200 hours of community service.

As the months of September 11 have passed, we’ve seen a shift of attacks on Arab Americans to our more typical victims of hate crimes, those based on sexual orientation and race. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it does seem that Americans have responded to calls against the violence and intimidation that erupted after September 11.

We have recently been in the legislature to try to strengthen our hate crime laws. We have recently passed legislation in the legislature to make the leaders of hate groups responsible if they encourage and direct others to go out and carry out deadly acts. I’m hopeful that the governor will sign that.[9]  

William Shaver, Chief of Staff Chicago Police Superintendent’s Office

The Chicago Police Department detected there was a sharp increase in nationalistic or ethnic hate crimes in the city, almost ninefold over the previous year, at that time, and there was a total of over 40 last year.[10] And I note that’s only the incidents that were reported. That’s a very real concern.

Carol Ritter, Executive Director Governor George Ryan’s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes

In the Department of Human Rights, I know post-September 11 there have been 34 [hate crime] cases filed with the department on the basis of national origin and religion. Those have been predominantly Sikh, Muslim, and Arab individuals.

Kenneth Gunn, First Deputy Chicago Commission on Human Relations

Up until 9/11 the city was seeing a relatively “good year” for hate crimes. In general, we average about 200 a year. Until September 11, the numbers were really down. I believe we had 56 reported at that time. After 9/11, just everything totally fell apart. From September 11 through September 30, we have received 50 reported hate crimes. Of the 50, 41 were reported to be against Arabs and/or Muslims. The swelling numbers lasted probably for about three to four weeks, then the numbers tapered down significantly.

Unfortunately, we had all kinds of acts. We had people just harassed on the street. We had a major Arab center on the southwest side that became a victim of arson. It was totally gutted. We had people in cars being stopped, and unfortunately it was throughout the city. Perpetrators were African Americans and white; there was no rhyme or reason to it. Anybody was involved.

Unfortunately, it made everybody uncomfortable and everybody feel unsafe because this is not the city and this is not the country we know it to be. So, for those three to four weeks our numbers were just incredible, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg because a lot of people were, as always, afraid to report any acts of hate. They would tell their neighbors, they would tell their family members and other people they are comfortable with, but as far as going to the authorities, sometimes that just did not happen.

[1] South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, “American Backlash: Terrorists Bring War Home in More Ways Than One,” 2001, p. 53.

[2] Richard Wronski, “Fear of Hate Crime Lingers,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 5, 2002, Metro, p. 1.

[3] Chicago Police Department, “Hate Crimes in Chicago: 2001,” p. 11.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “We Are Not the Enemy: Hate Crimes Against Arabs, Muslims, and Those Perceived to Be Arab or Muslim After September 11,” 2002, <>.

[5] 20 Ill. Comp. Stat. 2605/2605-390 (2003).

[6] The FBI’s 2001 hate crime report can be accessed at <>.

[7] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/12-7.1 (2003).

[8] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/12-7.1(a) (2003).

[9] 2002 Ill. Laws 92-0830 (on January 1, 2003, a law went into effect in Illinois that creates a new conspiracy crime for hate group leaders or members who encourage others to commit crimes and allows prosecution for a hate crime even if inspired by some other motive).

[10] See Richard Wronski, “Fear of Hate Crime Lingers; Data Show Terrorist Attacks Spurred a Burst of Harassment; Some Muslims Are Still Afraid,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 5, 2002, Metro, p. 1.